Written for the University of South Florida, April, 2018
English studies comprises of composition and rhetoric, the art of persuasive writing and speaking. It also encompasses critical theory, the subfield that examines text from a detailed perspective. Similarly, scholars of English also study literature and cultural studies such as feminist and gay theory, and many others. In this essay, I will be explaining what English studies comprises of in depth with help from my previous essays, Rhetoric and Composition, What is Literature and Cultural Studies?, and Critical Theory, its Origins and Value. I will also be answering in detail why I choose to be an English major and how it aids me in my career choices.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasive speech. Composition is the same thing, except it is done mostly in writing. Rhetorics is a significant component of English studies as it helps scholars keep in rhetorical aspect such as audience in mind while writing. Whenever and whatever it is that you write, when you know who you are writing for or who your prospective audiences are, you are able to give examples and evidences that you think will speak the most with certain audiences. In this way, you not only write a strong paper, but also end up saving time on not inserting evidences that may not speak to your audiences. Although, for generations, children learned rhetorics from elementary until higher education, Lauer mentions that by the start of the twentieth century, interestingly, rhetorical scholarship and other higher research related to it had dissipated from English studies (107). The only remnants of this unexplained situation was composition (the written form of persuasive speech) that later on went to collaborate with rhetorics to make its comeback as an academic discipline. Rhetorics was eventually restored as a field with the help of the establishment of the organization called the interdisciplinary society of America (109). In this way, rhetorics regained its position back into English studies. Today, many scholars of English take classes in rhetorics to learn and use it to build stronger arguments that better their essays and research papers. Next up is critical theory, a vital component of English studies.
Critical Theory is a type of social theory. It has been employed over time to study, critique, and emancipate groups of individuals who have been wronged due to political reasons, on grounds of race and gender. Through its progressive nature of criticism, critical theory challenges traditional texts by analyzing history in a different perspective. For example, history has been usually viewed through the lens of more privileged societies like the Europeans, men, and the elites. Critical Theory and its text also helps in bridging communities with similar experiences and narratives and aids in shedding lights on marginalized groups. One contemporary example is the movie called ‘Get Out’, that narrates the experiences of being a Black American. The main character’s mother, Missy, uses a silver spoon to hypnotize Chris, Rose’s boyfriend, who is black. The silver spoon represents the advantages that white people have compared to blacks in America. In this way, critical theory keeps English scholars and the department up to date by being open to new stories. In addition,“Like rhetoric, critical theory focuses on reader, text, audience, and context” (Elias, 229). It involves a process in which one component is given more importance than the other. For example, while studying The Handmaid’s Tale, we may look into the audience aspect, asking the question, “How would a women read this novel?”, while another time we may focus on the text, asking the question “Is the The Handmaid’s Tale how women usually write?”. Thus, by taking part in this process, as Elias writes “..definitions of “women”- impinge on interpretation and how we read texts” (230). In this manner, Critical theory, along with literature and cultural studies redefines the English department and History, by diversifying the contents and experiences of studying these fields.
Literature to me is the scholarly and qualitative analysis of texts that requires ample time in order to do so. As per the text, English Studies An Introduction to the Discipline (s), literature is a field of study that focuses on a group of selected texts, academic rather than popular, approached from a critical lens and conveyed over a long duration of time (Taylor, 200). Similarly, although cultural studies also examines texts from a detailed perspective, it particularly focuses on how a culture produces and alters individual experiences and narratives. Cultural studies, as the name alludes, studies various cultures by keeping in mind the social, economic, and political context of each text in mind. One example is, The Duchess of Malfi, a short story set in sixteenth century England. In the story, noble characters such as the Duchess, a woman, and her lover, a man of lower economic standing are met with tragic deaths at the hands of abominable characters, mainly men of higher economic stature. By employing this brilliant plot technique, Webster comments on the hypocritical society of the time and makes it a text that requires a cultural and social perspective in order to fully understand it. In this manner, considering social context not only makes The Duchess of Malfi a political satire, through its use of powerful symbols; it helps reader realize why certain things and characters remain and act certain ways. In this way, English studies is a complex field of study that comprises of so many varied and interesting fields that actually produces excellent communicators, good interpersonal skills, and well informed and detail oriented individuals.
I decided to study English mainly because I like to read, write, and revere those that do so too. Other equally significant reason is because English is a degree that is suitable to most of my career choices. One of my career choices include being a diplomat, a job that entails excellent communication and writing skills, both of which are heavily taught in the English major. I am also driven to write stories and make them into movies. As a writing concentration major, I feel like this is the best way to prepare myself to enter these prospective career choices. Lastly, I may teach at some point and a bachelors in English is always useful as it is one step away from being eligible to teach. Similarly, another reason of being an English major is because I enjoy and revere all its disciplines such as critical theory, rhetorics, and literature, all of which demand detailed examination of text and audience. But honestly, none of these reasons match up to the most obvious one, i.e, being an English major simply has brought me happiness and is reflective of my decision to be who I want to be.
In this manner, English studies is a varied and complex field of study that encompasses many fields such as critical theory, rhetorics and literature. These amazing subfields and the way they prepare English major students to become good communicators are one of the reasons I decided to study English.
Elias , Amy J. “Critical Theory and Cultural Studies .” English Studies An Introduction to the Discipline (s), edited by Bruce McComiskey, National Council of Teachers of English, 2006, pp. 223–274.
Lauer , Janice M. “Rhetoric and Composition .” English Studies An Introduction to the Discipline (s), edited by Bruce McComiskey, National Council of Teachers of English, 2006, pp. 106–134.
Taylor , Richard C. “Literature and Literary Criticism.” English Studies An Introduction to the Discipline (s), edited by Bruce McComiskey, National Council of Teachers of English, 2006, pp. 199–222.